More Than 80,000 People in Illinois Have Guns Despite Being Banned for Legal or Mental Health Issues, Report Finds

In Illinois, 114,000 people are banned from owning guns because of legal tangles or mental health issues — three-quarters of them haven’t surrendered their firearms, according to data the Cook County sheriff presented last Thursday.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart is seeking $10 million from state lawmakers to tackle what he calls in a recent report “A Firearm Regulation Crisis.” The money would train and equip more door-knocking officers to retrieve or ensure the safe storage of weapons from those who have had their state Firearm Owners Identification cards rescinded.

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The aim would be to reduce the chance of potential violence such as the massacre at Henry Pratt Co. in Aurora, which was carried out by an individual who wasn’t allowed to have a firearm. 

Dart says the amount of illegally owned firearms poses a major threat to public safety.  

“Look at the reasons why they're revoked — they’re a clear and present danger to themselves or others,” he told WTTW News. “They have a serious mental health issue, they have a felony conviction, order of protection… These are not people you want sitting with guns.”

Legislation pending in Springfield would increase fees on weapons purchases to fuel enforcement, but just days remain in the spring legislative session.

There are 2.42 million FOID card holders in Illinois. Gun owners with rescinded cars are required to turn over their weapons for storage or transfer them to a trusted person possessing a FOID card, an action certified with the completion of a Firearm Disposition Record.

Too many don’t. Historically, the approach was for local law enforcement to repeatedly send letters informing the recipient of the obligation to do so.

Dart’s report found that of nearly 114,000 repealed FOID card holders, 74% — approximately 84,000 — have never accounted for surrendering weapons.

The issue came to a bloody, devastating head in February 2019 when a man dismissed from his job at the Henry Pratt Co. in Aurora pulled and fired a gun he wasn’t allowed to have, killing five employees and wounding half-a-dozen others. The gunman bought the weapon in 2014 when a background check failed to identify a 1995 conviction for aggravated assault in Mississippi. When authorities became aware of it, they revoked the man’s FOID, but he never surrendered the weapon.

The same year, a DuPage County man whose FOID had been revoked for an aggravated battery charge but who had not turned over any weapons shot and killed his 18-month-old son, then himself, Dart’s report notes.

Dart’s efforts in the area predate the Aurora incident. He formed a unit in 2013 of eight officers trained to deal with tense environments, including those involving mental illnesses. His staff says the office has closed 9,200 cases, collected 4,000 FOID cards, taken 1,517 weapons for storage and allowed the safe transfer of several thousands of other weapons.

“How in God’s name can we continue to talk about all the gun violence and all the issues we have with gun violence, and we have 84,000 people who we know shouldn’t be around guns sitting in their houses?” said Dart. “We have their addresses, we know where they’re at. We also have documentation showing that they went to gun stores inquiring, and most likely, purchasing guns as well.”

Legislation signed in 2021 created a program for funding revocation enforcement teams. The Illinois State Police (ISP) has granted local police departments — including Dart’s and the Chicago Police Department — about $1 million a year.

Illinois State Police provided the following statement on the report:  “ISP provides grants from the State Police Revocation Enforcement Fund to law enforcement agencies to conduct firearm enforcement.  The Fund receives money from the Firearm Owners Identification Card Act, Firearm Concealed Carry Act, and other firearm offenses.  Money from grants, donations, appropriations, and other legal sources can also populate the Fund.  We strongly encourage law enforcement agencies to apply for a grant to conduct firearm enforcement details.  All law enforcement agencies have legal authority and a duty to enforce the state's firearms laws and grant funding can help them do that.”

In response to the statement, Dart said: “Yes, small law enforcement agencies can apply for those grants, but at the end of the day you’re going to have to come up with some regional task force model.”

Illinois State Police started tracking revocation enforcement in May 2019 and through 2022 reported bringing 4,300 people into compliance with the law.

Despite recent efforts, the backlog hasn’t changed since state police reported it in the days following the Aurora disaster.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Read the full report below. 

A Safer City is supported, in part, by the Sue Ling Gin Foundation Initiative for Reducing Violence in Chicago. 

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